With students returning to school this week, Bowen's youth are facing a pinch point most B.C. teenagers don’t face: the ferry commute.
Most of the island’s teenagers (numbering in the 120 to 160 range) get on the 7:30 a.m. ferry, along with a hundred or so other commuters, and then take the bus to either Rockridge or West Vancouver Secondary School.
In regular school runs, seats are already a hot commodity with groups of students crowded together, sharing seats and sitting on the ground. Today, orange flagging tape blocks off swaths of seats in a social distancing measure.
In light of COVID and students returning to school, BC Ferries is requesting all vehicle passengers on the 7:30 a.m. Queen of Capilano commuter runs remain in their cars. Those sailings are to have announcements to that effect.
“This will create space for students travelling as foot passengers who will require access to the lounge and deck areas in order to maintain physical distance,” said a public notice. Students will also have priority loading among the foot passengers on that run.
Bowen is one of four routes with school sailings on which BC Ferries expects it could see passenger numbers above COVID-restricted levels in lounge areas.
While earlier in the pandemic Transport Canada restricted vessels’ passenger capacity to 50 per cent of vessel capacity or they could have alternative safety practices and measures in place. Since traffic has rebounded, BC Ferries has implemented more measures such as physical barriers, extra cleaning protocols and lounge safety analysis, so as to allow on average 70 per cent of passenger capacity (including in-vehicle and walk-on passengers), said Darin Guenette, BC Ferries’ manager of public affairs, in an email.
“However, keeping people safely distancing in lounges is a key component of monitoring how many people are allowed on board,” said Guenette. “Thus, if all people who board the ferry in a vehicle can remain in that vehicle for the duration of the sailing, we know that this means that the only people in the passenger lounge spaces are walk-ons.”
In the afternoons, students tend to return over a couple of sailings, so BC Ferries doesn’t expect to see the same crunch in those times, said Guenette.
“As for distancing at terminals, we’ve implemented signage/position markers to encourage people still remain spaced from others ‘not inside their bubble,’” said Guenette. “With our mandatory face covering policy in place since August 24, this will apply to all students as well.”
“…The terminal and vessel crews had anticipated challenges and are going to do their best to make this safe and smooth for all,” said Guenette.
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